Following the recent firestorm of anti-American protests in the Middle East and the provocative remarks made by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN General Assembly, the discussion regarding the U.S. relationship with Israel is back in the spotlight. The Romney campaign accuses the Obama administration of being soft-liners with regards to U.S. defense of Israel. The Obama administration denies this. Both candidates assert, however, their unwavering determination to protect Israel. Is it time Americans examine the adverse geopolitical effects that stem from our unfettered defense of Israel? I would say so.
Our ideological fixation with protecting Israel harms our credibility in restoring geopolitical stability in the Middle East, and, truthfully, does no long-term good for Israel. Our extensive military and weaponry financing – sixty percent of our global security assistance funding and an astonishing one third of our foreign-aid budget – may strengthen Israel’s defense capabilities, but it is wrong for Washington to pretend this enhances peace in the region; Iran notices our thirty-billion dollar commitment to Israel over the next ten years.
We could make tremendous strides in softening our relations with Iran if did not pipeline so much financial assistance to Israel. Many American politicians, and perhaps Mitt Romney, would blast this statement as denying our moral imperative to protect and defend our only democratic Middle Eastern ally. This is not incorrect in itself. But how does it help our case to toss around rhetoric of “preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities” when we simultaneously support the Israeli nuclear weapons program? What does it mean when we say we will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon besides tightening economic sanctions? Invade Iran, if necessary? We must remember Iran could easily shut the Strait of Hormuz and incapacitate our economy and world oil supply.
Yes, Israel and Iran are completely different nations with different visions. It is true that Ahmandinejad has made horrible statements about Israel’s sovereign right to exist, rooted in deep anti-Semitism in front of many world leaders. But I truly believe if we want to deter Iran from building a nuclear weapon, we have to consider the Iranian perspective.
When George W. Bush declared Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil during the beginning of the War on Terror, we checked a dangerous box for Iran. First, we went into Afghanistan and waged a justifiable war. But then we invaded non-nuclear Iraq, Iran’s neighbor, in one of our most unpopular wars and killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. And during this time, Israel strengthened its nuclear weapons program. Under these circumstances, how could Iran not be threatened? Why wouldn’t they feel they were justified to start a nuclear program in order to prevent an invasion?
Iran obviously wants to be able to defend itself. We have a vise of military bases encircling them, as well as 50,000 permanent troops in Iraq. And while many will disagree with me, I truly believe that Iranian nuclear proliferation is an act of self-defense, not of aggression. Ahmadinejad says Israel is “has no rightful place in the Middle East,” but the probability that he would wage World War III by bombing Israel is virtually zero. Ahmadinejad may resent Israel, but he is not unintelligent. He knows the disastrous global repercussions of using a nuclear weapon. And why is this? Because unlike nuclear North Korea, ruled by demagogues who do not care for their people and might actually use their weapons if they felt justified, Iran has a great reason not to use theirs. They are an enormous, rich country. They have businessmen. They have an ancient culture they are proud of. They have a middle class. And they have an economy, all things they risk to lose in a nuclear war with Israel, which they could not hope to win.
If the United States would stop supporting Israel’s nuclear weapons program, or staying quiet while Israel builds settlements in Palestinian territories, we could have cards to play to convince Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program. And we can continue to squeeze their economy through economic sanctions and give an incentive for the Iranian middle class to no longer support the ayatollahs. Just this past week, the Iranian currency dropped 30% compared to the dollar because of sanctions; the regime may have storm clouds ahead. We used to have diplomatic ties with Iran. We could conceivably revive them while continuing current sanctions.
The thought of Iran having a nuclear weapon is extremely frightening: it would unleash a cascade of nuclear proliferation in other Middle Eastern nations who have similar animosity towards Israel and the West. Most reasonable politicians agree upon this. But trading our geopolitical credibility for Israel is dangerous in my opinion. We cannot go back an undo the Iraq war, but our politicians can check their incendiary rhetoric about forbidding Iran to go nuclear.
If we really want to protect Israel from an Iranian nuclear weapon and all other peace-loving people in the Middle East, we have to be more creative in how we negotiate with Iran, and we have to seriously consider what legitimacy we sacrifice through our unwavering support of Israel.